Chart of the Day: Emotional-Affective Trajectory of Public Engagement

Here’s a chart from Augsburg University sociology professor Lars Christiansen’s latest article, in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, which describes the “emotional-affective trajectory” of a bike infrastructure project. In lay terms, it describes how the public engagement was experienced for participants and policymakers as it evolved through the public process.

Here’s the chart:


Here’s Christainesn’s description of the above graph:

When Central Corridor Friendly Streets (CCFS) partnered with the City and held formal events, the purpose shifted from deliberation and visioning to plan formalization and official decision making. With that shift was a change in aesthetics, and notably the expression of emotions. The ludic activity and levity that characterized the block parties dissipated and was overtaken by serious, oppositional, and sometimes angry affect. Figure 1 is both a representation of these shifts and a provisional theory of emotions in planning processes.

The blue portion of the figure represents the breadth of deliberation and visioning, referring to the variation in street transformation ideas; visioning eventually narrows as formal plans emerge and decision making becomes imminent. The red portion refers to the potential for oppositional contention and negative affect; it shows an increase over time, through the process. Figure 1 suggests that the two may be related; as visioning narrows toward a formal plan, the potential expression of negative emotions increases. If the two are related, what might be the cause? I hypothesize that in the context of visioning events characterized by an atmosphere of levity, with children playing happily in the street, it is difficult for attendees to express and especially sustain negative emotion. However, as plans become solidified, and deliberation moves into more formal settings, positions are forced into a binary of support or opposition, and the expression of anger has little or no levity to overcome. There is a greater likelihood of the expression of negative emotion as sides are taken, asserted, and defended. The insight gained from the CCFS case is that the creation of events with levity may be a powerful tool of deliberation with a strong possibility of widespread involvement. But sustaining this is challenging as both purpose and aesthetics change.

Christainsen was one of the organizers of CHarles Avenue Friendly Streets, which helped to pave the way [sic] for construction of Saint Paul’s finest bicycle boulevard through a diverse part of the city. The whole paper makes an compelling argument that aesthetics, tone, and affect are crucial to re-thinking public engagement. Alas, its behind the typical academic paywall.

3 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Emotional-Affective Trajectory of Public Engagement

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    What happens when people go out of their way to engage on a project (such as a bike plan) only to have the outcome of that shot down and a new (repeat) public outreach process commence?

    I think that’s the biggest emotional burden of participating in public engagement: The high chance that it will all be for naught. We see this all the time.

  2. Joan Pasiuk

    I love this visual of what we all experience as bike/ped advocates. Very enlightening. I think the dynamic is explained not just by context but also by demographics. Early stages of FSI model draws a broader participation. In the later, more formal steps folks with something to lose (real or perceived) show up to protest vehemently. This can overwhelm the more tentative policy makers and diminish all the good work that preceded. What about the city council hearing as block party #2 — to be conducted right in the midst of a friendly street event?

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